A packed audience gathered for the presentation event organised by NatWest’s South East Regional Board, where guests heard chairman Tim Boag explain how the Skills & Opportunities Fund works. In 2017, £2 million was made available across England and Wales through NatWest’s Skills & Opportunities Fund. The regional boards, helped by a public vote, awarded grants of up to £35,000 to not-for-profit organisations and projects aimed at helping people to help themselves in the areas of financial capability and enterprise.

One of the beneficiaries of an award in 2016 was the Hastings-based Education Futures Trust. Their ‘Working Without Walls’ programme impressed the judges and voters. The programme is a series of inspirational survival skills and conservation courses for young people in Hastings aged 14-21 years with low educational or economic outcomes.

In an inspiring speech, Carole Dixon, CEO of Education Future Trust, told the audience about the impact of the grant and what it has meant to the the programme.

She commented later, “We were delighted with our success in gaining the Skills and Opportunities funding for our Working without Walls programme. This allows us to extend our outdoor learning and conservation work to young people who struggle in education, and may be facing long term unemployment. As well as learning new practical skills, participants will develop teamwork, build self-esteem and confidence, whilst clearing and improving areas of local woodland.

“Our thanks go to NatWest for allowing us this opportunity, and we look forward to welcoming them to see the progress in both the young people and the countryside.”

The two big winners in the South East in 2017 were Citizens Advice Maidstone and Let’s Do Business Group (South East) Limited.

Citizens Advice Maidstone is working with Citizens Advice Tunbridge Wells, who both provide financial capability sessions, as well as free, confidential and impartial advice to residents in a wide range of locations and settings. They have received funding for their project, Make it Count, which will target residents and families living in isolated rural locations within the Boroughs of Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells to improve their financial resilience and capability.

Let’s Do Business Group (South East) Limited, based in St Leonards-on-Sea, supports the economic development of Hastings and the wider East Sussex area by helping new and budding entrepreneurs. Its Business Builder project has received funding to provide start-up workshops, mentoring support, online training and specialist advice for deprived communities.

Applications for the next round of the NatWest Skills & Opportunities Fund open in September. For further information and to apply visit http://skillsandopportunitiesfund.natwest.com/

At the start of 2015, NatWest set up regional boards throughout the country, each with representatives from the different divisions of the bank – personal/branch, business and commercial, Lombard, Coutts, plus the supporting functions including HR, marketing, communications and security – with the purpose of helping us work better together and in turn identify ways in which we can better support our customers and the communities we work in.

In the South East, our Regional Board’s three pillars have been on education, employability and enterprise and throughout the year we undertake a number of different initiatives under these banners.

In Brighton, we’ve opened the first Entrepreneurial Spark accelerator hub in the South East where we’ve supported more than 200 aspiring entrepreneurs by providing the office space, IT infrastructure, mentoring and access to our network and the region’s business ecosystem that is often difficult and expensive for people starting their own business to secure.

It has been really inspiring to see these entrepreneurs working together and the tenacity each of them have to succeed in business. I’d like to personally invite you to visit the hub to see what these budding entrepreneurs are up to.

Last year, we launch our Bank on Breakfast programme through which we’re funding primary schools with catchments in some of the most disadvantaged communities including the Baird Primary Academy in Hastings and Drapers Mills Primary Academy in Margate.

It has been shown that having breakfast has a direct impact on kids’ behaviour and concentration in class and that nationally 32% of schoolchildren regularly miss breakfast. Unfortunately, at both of these schools, that percentage is even higher. Our hope is that our contribution encourages better learning by giving kids a healthy breakfast and helps motivate parents to get their children to school on time.

And finally, in 2015 we launched the £2.5 million Skills & Opportunities Fund. In the South East, we’ve awarded over £400,000 to 23 organisations that support disadvantaged people and communities, each in their own ways. Our aim is to create true, long term partnerships with these organisations so we encourage our staff to volunteer with the charities and social enterprises we work with.

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